The One Thing You Do That Makes You Less Happy
Have you ever said, or heard someone say, “I just want to be happy?”
Doesn’t it tug at your heart strings to hear such a beautiful display of innocence and simplicity? They should be happy. We should be happy. It certainly sounds reasonable enough.
Is there anything wrong with striving for happiness, and not stopping until we ultimately achieve it?
No. There isn’t anything wrong with it. It’s impossible.
We’re not the first ones who noticed. According to a Psychology Today article concerning happiness:
A few scientists started to study this phenomena. What they found is that as people place more importance on being happy, they become more unhappy and depressed. The pressure to be happy makes people less happy. Organizing your life around trying to become happier, making happiness the primary objective of life, gets in the way of actually becoming happy.
Isn’t Life all about The Pursuit of Happiness?
Similar to another article we wrote about self esteem, happiness is an elusive target. Happiness isn’t something that can be achieved by forcing it, or by pursuing it directly.
If the writers of the Declaration of Independence were present today, they would likely change the famous line “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” as it reads today, to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Things that Lead to Happiness.
A small change in thinking that, if embraced, would do wonders for our collective emotional status.
Psychology author and blogger Alex Pattakos, Ph.D. believes that the writers of the Declaration were indeed referring to this deeper sense of the word happiness, which would have included the concepts of meaning and fulfillment.
Pattakos further protests that the word happiness has been downgraded from its more classic definition: experiencing a good, meaningful, and fulfilling life, to a mere description of momentary bliss, or the occasional fleeting emotions one receives from simple hedonism, or pleasure-seeking.
Many years before modern psychology caught on, famous psychiatrist, concentration camp survivor, and founder of Logotherapy had this to say:
The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
In other words, discover the meaning in your life; dedicate yourself to a cause outside of yourself, and you will experience a deep level of satisfaction for your life.
This idea becomes evident in the latter part of his quote:
Happiness must happen: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
Is Practicing Positive Thinking the Same as the Direct Pursuit of Happiness?
While Little Change supports pragmatic, positive thinking as a means to enhance overall well-being, it doesn’t appear that making positive statements or repeating affirmations can provide the deep sense of fulfillment that accompanies the soul that’s in pursuit of meaning.
Optimism, and practical positive thinking as a way of life are great tools for warding off the extreme lows that come with our all-too-common default reaction to stimuli: assuming the worst. Practicing these things, along with reframing helps us to learn that the positive or neutral assessments of a situation are often the more accurate ones.
Positive thinking is about establishing patterns of thought that help maintain a more balanced state of mind. The best use case for positive thinking isn’t achieving instant happiness.
When used as an attempt to achieve happiness by direct effort, positive thinking often disappoints. In fact, many of positive thinking’s biggest advocates later become its biggest detractors. When its adherents get disappointed with the outcome of living at one extreme, they are quick to settle for the other extreme.
But the opposite of a wrong thing isn’t necessarily the right thing, and a reaction to a problem doesn’t mean it’s the solution. It’s just a reaction.
Should We Give Up Trying to be Happy?
Just about all of us want to be happy in the deeper sense of the word as it’s described earlier in this article. There is no reason to suppress this natural desire for happiness. Today’s Little Change is about where you place your emphasis.
We should be ready to welcome happiness whenever it comes, without attempting to force it. The one thing many of us do to make ourselves less happy is the act of trying to make ourselves happy.
Can you imagine yourself letting go of your focus on happiness as a direct goal? When we persistently monitor our internal feelings of happiness we become less happy since many of us rarely feel as happy as we’d like to feel. Unhappiness about our current lack of happiness makes more unhappiness. It’s difficult to capture happiness this way.
Instead, consider focusing on things that lead to happiness; things that provide a reason to be happy.
Just as laughter comes naturally when we have a reason to laugh, such as hearing something funny; happiness comes when we encounter reasons to be happy along our journey toward discovering meaning and fulfillment in our lives.
Shift your focus from concerns about happiness at any given moment, and refocus efforts on discovering meaning, fulfillment and living out your personal values.
Allow happiness come naturally. It will.